ink and acrylic on canvas laid on board
Ethiopian born Julie Mehretu's gestural paintings are the summation of layers upon layers of acrylic paint, on top of which she impresses labyrinthine renderings in pencil and ink. The complex, fractured geometry seems to dissolve a familiar sense of direction, making time and place anonymous and space age. By enjambing the influences of many art historical movements – Abstract Expressionism, Italian Futurism, Cubism – Mehretu seems to invent her own visual metropolis.
Excerpt (Paradigm), 2003, is archetypal of Mehretu's impulse to collapse earth and sky into one another. She conveys the frenetic energy and overpopulated pandemonium of our media-drenched age by way of a dazzling superimposition of architectural plans, gridded maps, and urban illustration. She seems to privilege no one layer in particular and her technique yields a sort of faceted flatness – colorful and hypnotic, the 21st Century made abstract. The taped-off, triangular segments of acrylic are arranged so as to create multiple vanishing points. A white, horizontal strip in the middle of the canvas – the only negative space in the entire composition – serves as a visual relief from the surrounding chaos. The line drawn cityscape grounds the otherwise completely abstract painting with a sense of reality. Mehretu's visions are of existing experience, their referent an all but obsolete world. Mehretu remains purposefully ambivalent, however, as to her own creations. As result, Excerpt (Paradigm), 2003, becomes an arresting visual quagmire that is a dichotomy between a utopian solution to the density and anxiety of the 21st Century rather and an exaggerated pictorial a dystopia that exemplifies the turbulent atmosphere of our times.
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